If you don't remember the movie, that's okay, most people don't. It wasn't popular enough to sustain a place in the annual Hallmark/Lifetime holiday movie rotation, and even I haven't seen it for so long, that I'm sure I've long since forgotten some of the secondary characters.
What I won't forget about Always Remember I Love You is the way the movie made me feel, and how its bittersweet storyline hung weighty Christmas ornaments on my heart strings and tugged them to the ground.
Always Remember, as I'll call it for the sake of brevity, is not your typical Christmas fare, but it is set during the holiday period and the story does culminate on Christmas day. The film is also tender and sweet, and as gooey as a fresh-baked Cinnabon, so yeah, I guess there's no way of denying it - Always Remember I Love You is a Christmas movie.
The main character in Always Remember is Robert, a sixteen year-old boy played by Stephen Dorff, who learns that his wealthy jet-setter parents actually adopted him. More tragically, Robert's Manhattanite parents, portrayed with perfect TV-movie panache by David Birney and Joan Van Ark, discover that their adopted son was kidnapped from his real family when he was a baby. Upon being assailed with this avalanche of identity-shattering news, Robert does what any of us would do; he runs away to middle America to find his birth parents.
When Robert reaches Iowa or Indiana or Illinois, he first befriends his biological brother and then manages to meet his own birth parents, played by the stellar Patty Duke (pictured on the VHS box above) and Richard Masur, whom you'll remember best for his role as David, Bonnie Franklin's lovable boyfriend on the sitcom One Day at a Time.
Robert works his way into the hearts of the entire family without revealing his true identity, only to be left with a horrible dilemma in the end. He must decide to which family he ultimately belongs.
With a plot that features a toddler kidnapping and a broken-hearted mother, a teenage runaway with intense identity struggles, and an ample supply of loneliness and alienation, the movie is chock full of family angst and coming of age growing pains. At Christmastime, no less. In other words, this movie shoots sentimental arrows directly into the heart of my gentle sensibilities and leaves me both weepy and warm, as any great Christmas movie should.
As I reflected on writing this piece, I realized that Always Remember may ultimately be my favorite Christmas movie not because of its story, but because of the meaningful life lessons it reinforces.
- Family is the amazing folks who birthed you, and it's all the other people who entered your life and offered themselves up as your companion, your comfort, and your mirror.
- Doing something generous of spirit, something selfless, is always a good idea.
- It's never too late to to do the right thing. Never.
In these last few days of pre-Christmas insanity, I hope you'll take an evening to warm some hot chocolate and snuggle up with your loved ones, and enjoy your favorite Christmas movie guilty pleasure, and in so doing, I hope you feel like you are right where you belong.